WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) -- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday that the days of government payments to grow corn and soybeans are numbered due to record farm income and budget constraints.

Vilsack said he believes direct commodity payments will be axed when Congress approves the next farm bill, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (http://bit.ly/I9Wydy) reported.

"I don't think there is any doubt about that given the fact there has to be reductions. We have to get our fiscal house in order, which all of us agree has to be done," Vilsack said during a visit to Hawkeye Community College in Waterloo.

Vilsack is optimistic lawmakers will come up with a plan to provide a safety net for farmers, protect the environment and continue to provide food assistance to those in need.

The current $284 billion farm bill, approved in 2008, expires in September.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, and other White House officials were at Hawkeye Community College to talk about the Obama administration's efforts to spur economic development. The focus is on improving rural economies by training and retraining workers for in-demand jobs.

One way to spur job creation in Iowa and beyond is a healthy farm sector, Vilsack said.

"There's an amazing opportunity in agriculture," he said.

Vilsack was joined by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for a discussion on rural workforce development.

Duncan highlighted the importance of the nation's community college system to ensuring a supply of "young people graduating with real skills." He also noted the diversity of people educated by community colleges, including those who are retrained for new careers.

"We're here to listen, we're here to learn," Duncan said.

Hawkeye's workforce development office, Cedar Valley Iowa Works, helped Tanaha Pettit through its manufacturing certification course. Pettit saw a flier about the course after finishing a two-year prison stint last September.

"I gained a lot of skills in prison," said Pettit, who thought she would be prepared to find a job upon being released. But the course helped her land a job at Bruns Machine in Cedar Falls.

Jeanie Wright, director of Cedar Valley Iowa Works, said federal worker investment funds allowed the agency to cover the first 160 hours of Pettit's salary before she became a permanent employee.

Pettit's boss, Joel Kolker, said the company has hired four people with the help of Cedar Valley Iowa Works, which has 32 employees.

"That's a big deal for us," Kolker said.

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

Copyright 2012 The AP.

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